Kate Bush on Damian Ortega. (First Take)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Kate Bush on Damian Ortega. (First Take)


ONE OF A COTERIE GROUPED AROUND MEXICO CITY'S Galeria Kurimanzutto, Damian Ortega conceives his artworks not as discrete, rarefied objects but rather as forms of action combining material with thought. The young Mexican artist leaped onto the international stage this fall with "Cosmic Thing," a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, which followed contributions in 2001 to a number of notable group shows, like "Squatters #1" at Witte de With, Rotterdam, and the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves, Porto, and "Animations" at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. If you're traveling south this winter, check him out (through March 1) at "The Air Is Blue," Hans-Ulrich Obrist's curatorial intervention in the Casa Barragan, Mexico City.

Ortega's works touch on questions of social space and environmentalism, on postindustrialization and urban modernity. The formal register is one of understated, poetic constructivism and as such can be related to a long Latin American sculptural tradition, as exemplified by the Neo-concretists. Ortega, though, invests the mode with his own deft humor: A proposition for a new kind of building technique, for example, which utilizes the ubiquitous tortilla as a cheap, practical material, conjures an object of delicate, delicious beauty (Tortilla Construction Modules, 1998).

Now thirty-five years old, Ortega left school at sixteen to pursue a career as a political cartoonist in the left-wing press but in the last few years has concentrated his observations on the contemporary world into sculptural form. Comparisons with friend and compatriot Gabriel Orozco have been made, and it's hard to avoid viewing Cosmic Thing, 2002, Ortega's most ambitious sculpture to date, in part as a witty riposte to Orozco's famous La DS, 1993. Where Orozco chose the gleaming allure of the eternally desirable Citroen, Ortega opts for the humble (classic) VW Beetle, a car appreciated more for its endurance than for its style. Driven by millions of Mexicans and now manufactured solely on the edges of Mexico City (the US halted imports in 1977), it's a car laden with a sense of national identity. …

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